Wednesday, May 17, 2006

From Felix Unger to Found Money

From James Grippando

Monday night Sebastian Junger was in town. Books & Books, the best bookstore in the country (which happens to be right here in Coral Gables) asked me to introduce him at his reading/signing for his new book, A Death in Belmont. I've never met Sebastian Junger, but of course I'd read The Perfect Storm, so I said yes. I'm usually not nervous about speaking in public, but for some reason this one made me nervous. It was the name. Sebastian Junger. By the time I walked up on stage, I was convinced that I was going to introduce "the New York Times Bestselling author, Felix Unger."

Growing up, I never missed an episode of The Odd Couple on television. Jack Lemmon is one of my favorite actors of all time. So by Monday night this was a total mental block for me.

My speech began smoothly enough. I told the crowd: "Sebastian Junger is the kind of writer that everyone in South Florida would love to have as a neighbor, particluarly during hurricane season. And for one good reason: before he became a famous writer, he was a tree trimmer. As Dave Barry likes to say, 'I’m not making this up.' Not just a tree trimmer, but a high climber for a tree removal company, one of those guys who climbs up all the way to top, and makes you stand on the ground in amazement and say: 'That guy must be nuts.' He did this until a chainsaw injury made him decide to write about dangerous professions (like long-line commercial fishing). So in one respect, Sebastian is very different from those of us who survived Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma last year: his chainsaw injury came BEFORE The Perfect Storm."
Ha ha ha, I'm so funny. At least I didn't lapse into The Odd Couple. But I had a LONG way to go.

I'm not going to tell you how it turned out. You, like most of Mr. JUNGER's fans in south Florida, decided to stay home and watch George Bush on television. Shame on you. At least you could have TIVOed us. (BTW, Sebastian's speech was absolutely riveting, and he's a heck of a nice guy.)

Now, Monday morning had none of the Monday evening jitters. I spoke to my son's first grade class about writing fairy tales. I'm not sure what makes me think I'm an expert qualified to talke about writing fairy tales, but fortunately the lead cross examiner for the first grade was home with the flu, so I was able to wing it withtout serious challenge to my qualifications. I love teaching kids, and I have a routine that involves one of my books that always plays well.

The book is Found MoneyThe spark for Found Money was simple enough. My father's cousin bought a new house. He started renovating the basement, and demolished a wall. Behind it, he found a coffee can. Inside the can was cash — $20,000! He knocked down another wall and found another can. In it, another $17,000. His dilemma was this. Should he tell the former owner that he'd packed up and left without his money? Or should he zip his lip and keep the loot?

I've had this talk with older children before, and you may be interested to know that, the vote was almost unanimous: "finders keepers." But first graders -- God bless them -- still have a heart. About a third said keep it. Another third said call the previous owner. And the biggest third (huh?) said give it to charity to help the poor. Sweet, huh?

Time to get back to writing. Or I might be one of the poor they're trying to help.
Oh, one last bit of good news. FINALLY my publisher put a link to on my website. And it even works!

James Grippando


  1. Great story, Jim, about the origin of "Found Money," your uncle finding all that cash in the walls. My story: Our hillside home in L.A. was previously occupied by a fairly well-known porn star. I'd give you her name, but then everyone would jump to her website, instead of remaining in this salon of enlightenment and culture. Anyway, we have a basement I call the "mountain room." It's open to the boulder on which the house sits. In the room, Ms. X left a large number of photos, fan letters, clothing, and (shall we say) implements. Personally, I'd rather have the cash. --Paul Levine

  2. Yeah right, Paul! Great story. PREVIOUSLY occupied my eye. I've heard about your parties. "But officer, I don't know where any of this stuff came from. It must have been left by the porn star who used to live in my house. Honest. Ask my wife." PUH-LEASE! JMG

  3. I'm jealous. The only thing I found buried in my back yard was an old foundation. Omigod! The West coast Atlantis may be under my camellia bush. Where's that shovel?

  4. Great post!

    I'm now kicking myself for buying a house with no basement... DAMN!

    but wait, we have camellia bushes too!!!

    Now I can't get Felix's "haaaaaaaaanhhhhh" noise out of my head.